Are You Sure You Want To Live Like Common People?

Every now and again, I feel like a bit of a fraud. I’m told this is normal.

Singer, musician, artist and paradigm-changer Amanda Palmer talks about the feeling she calls the Fraud Police, an “imaginary, terrifying force of experts and real grown-ups who don’t exist and who come knocking on your door at 3am when you least expect it, saying ‘fraud police. we’ve been watching you and we have evidence that you have no idea what you are doing. and you stand accused of the crime of completely making shit up as you go along.'” (you can read her whole speech on the subject here or watch the video of it there).

Worldwide-acclaimed, award-winning and generally awesome writer Neil Gaiman speaks of a similar feeling, calling it the Imposter Syndrome, “the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you” (again, the whole speech can be found transcripted here or in video form, and I heavily recommend it to anyone who… oh, everyone, really).

(Screencap from video by BBC Radio One)

My most recent narrow escape from the fraud police was brought about by listening to MCR’s cover of Common People, originally by Pulp (I am ready to be stoned and burned at the stake for my heresy, but I like the cover better than the original, and buy it more, too). The song is basically a bitingly critical story about a girl from a rich family trying to ‘live like common people’ (I’m going to be quoting a lot, so you might as well listen before/while you read). I can’t say I’ve ever properly moved between classes in my life, generally swinging between middle-middle and upper-middle, both by Ukrainian standards (anyone wondering how they compare to the western world can do their own research; my economics days are behind me). And yet, the song managed to strike at the heart of some of my fraud-related insecurities. Maybe by now I’m simply preconditioned to take anything spoken/sung in Gerard Way’s voice very deeply. But one way or another, faced with the fraud police, I felt like I was being told that my escape into the world of freelance work and all-purpose art was all a fake, a make-believe, a dream that would end, sooner or later. That my real place was at an office desk, nine to six, Monday to Friday. That someone trained in the ways of making money had no place making art. That relying on freelance income is all a game for me, and once I’ve grown bored of it, I’ll go back to paycheck land. And so on. In this episode of Fraud Police, it is, apparently, all about the money.

Do I think that ‘poor is cool’? No – when ‘poor’ means having no money to eat, or pay rent, or get medical treatment. Yes – when ‘poor’ means leaving a snow-white-collar full-time job for a freelance gig that brings barely a quarter of the money. I didn’t do it to be poorer, I did it to be free to do the things I want. People who go climbing mountains don’t do it for the opportunity to break limbs or get frostbite. They do it for the achievement and adventure, and the joy that comes with it. Does willing exposure to discomfort and pain make them masochists? Does putting their results above such pain and discomfort make them stupid and pretentious? Should they just go back and enjoy their beds and carpets, because so many people in the world lack these basic comforts? Does reaching further, up, or sideways, make you ungrateful for the things you already have?

No. No, no, and HELL, NO.

If you start settling, where do you draw the line? A middle manager. A coffeeshop barista. A Wall Street banker. A street musician. A college professor. A third-world peasant. They can all easily find someone who’s better off than them AND someone who’s so much worse off. Barring everything, they’re all alive. Shouldn’t just that simple fact be enough?

From a certain angle, it IS enough. Enough not to complain. Enough not to despair. But if simply being physically alive is enough to consistently make you happy over a prolonged period of time, you are wasted as a human being. Life as a plant, full of delicious sunshine and refreshing water, may suit you better.

This brings me to a part of the song that I take issue with. You will never understand what it’s like to live your life with no meaning or control, says the protagonist of the song, implying that for poorer, common people, lack of meaning or control in their lives is normal, whereas wealthy people have plenty of both. I won’t even get started on the subject of control, and the correlation between levels of fear and the amount of things to lose, and the great misconception of the freedom-granting properties of money… I’ll address the subject of ‘meaning’ instead, mainly because my statement on it is much more succint.

If you live your life without knowing what gives it meaning, or know what gives it meaning but don’t strive towards it – you fail at life, and money has nothing, nothing in nine hells to do with it.

It isn’t about the money. It’s about using what you’ve got, as best as you can. In my experience, people who ‘burn so bright whilst you can only wonder why’ are rare regardless of their income. However, if you choose to interpret the term ‘common’ as ‘typical’ rather than ‘poor’, then, sadly, I think you’ll find that the practice to ‘dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do’ transcends classes.

Tell you what. Based on my observations, I don’t think I want to live like common people.

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3 Comments

Filed under Art and Music, Rambles

3 responses to “Are You Sure You Want To Live Like Common People?

  1. I love this post. I’ve read it twice now, and both times I’ve completly agreed with you. I love ‘Common People’ too, and the “no meaning or control bit” does get me sometimes. Occasionally life feels like it has no meaning, and more often than not I don’t have much control… But when I have meaning, I’m happy – or happier, at least, which will do for now. And whether you have money or material goods is irrelevant, because people with meaning in their lives are better off than those who don’t.

    I’ll watch the Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman interviews when I’ve not got exams!

  2. I loved the bit about the “fraud police”. I’ve watched the Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman interviews and I know exactly what they are talking about, not that i’m some famous musician or anything, i’m just a wee artist but i always feel like i’m faking my way through things and not really having a clue what’s going on…… it’s nice to see it’s not just me!

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